more from the west

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Subject: more from the west
From: (Richard Johnson)
Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2000 17:40:10 +1000
Hello all

I have just got back from a fortnight at Marion Downs and Windorah and thought that some of you might like an update on the Channel Country.
Rain chased us out in April and since then even more rain fell, this on top of several floods in the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper (hence the filling of Lake Eyre, that's been in the news so much lately).
The down side of this has been difficult access but this is sorting itself out now. The road west from Windorah to Bedourie is open and Shire graders are busy on the washouts so conventional vehicles are getting through. The same applies to the Bedourie-Boulia road, though some rain south of Marion while we were there caused problems for some unwary travellers. We saw Richard Jordan and a bunch of Atlassers on the road in a Toyota bus, if that's anything to go by! (Hi folks, how did you go?). The main Bedourie-Birdsville road was closed but the longer flood detour around Lake Machattie was open to 4WD's. I am not sure what's happening on the Birdsville via Betoota road - it was closed last I knew. We came back to Windorah down the Springvale-Diamantina Gates NP-Palparara road and had no problems, though there were a few nasty washouts. A Shire grader was heading north up this road as we left it. Basically, with care and following local advice, you can get around now.
The up side is that the Channel Country looks spectacularly green from end to end and there are also lots of wildflowers out, on the floodplains, the sand-dunes and the rocky hills. Since this is a birding thing, I'll say no more about that other than if you go now you will be seeing the country and its flora as it is very rarely seen by anyone, even those who live there.
The Aus Pratincoles that had nested on the high plain to west of the Georgina at Marion have deserted this area completely and are now on the floodplain proper. They are in small groups all along the Bedourie-Boulia road. The Gibberbirds have disappeared from here too, though I did see a couple on the road coming up from Bedourie. On our way north from Bedourie to Marion in the late afternoon we encountered the first Flock Pigeons about 20km S of Marion and continued to see pairs and small groups of up to 40 birds flying over the road, for a total of around 300 by the time we got to the Marion turn-off. We continued to see many pairs around Marion for the rest of the week but no flocks. Were they nesting? I wish I knew! The Budgerigars are now here in force, and throughout the Channel Country, nesting in coolibahs along the creeks and feeding out on the plains. The 500 Black Kites and several pairs of Whistling Kites that have been gorging on fish at the Georgina crossing were still there. They have had easy pickings here for at least a month and it is only getting easier. Lots of White-necked Herons, Great Egrets, Night Herons and Straw-necked Ibis have joined the party.We saw saw a similar situation later on on the Diamantina were maybe 1000 SN Ibis were hoeing into 10,000's of stranded small catfish and bony bream; a change of diet from grasshoppers I guess. At the King Ck crossing, east of Bedourie, about 500 LB Cormorants were fishing in the fast-flowing water.
The trip back to Windorah was too rushed to say much about the Diamantina Gates-Davenport Downs-Palparara birds. I would have liked a spare week for that drive! Notables included a flock of 50 Red-tailed black-cockatoos on a sandhill on Diamantina Gates and many Gibberbirds on the road through Davenport Downs. Not a single Letter-winged Kite was seen in the two week trip - I don't know what they are doing.
If anyone finds themselves in Windorah with a bit of time for birding, the Nature Drive is well worth a look. It's still under development and isn't signposted yet but is there for visitors to enjoy. It's on the camping and watering reserve (the 'river reserve') and runs through mulga woodland, ghost gum/western blooodwood/mulga and spinifex on sandplains, gidgee open woodland, alluvial herbfield and the coolibah-lined channels of the Cooper. It's rich in birds and easily accessible except for the river channels. The first decent channel you come to after crossing an open floodplain needs a high-clearance vehicle to get across. The river can be looked at on the main road crossing of the Cooper, anyway. To get there: if coming from the east, as I think most would, take the first turn left after the airstrip (on the left), beside the 'Welcome to Windorah' sign. Follow the dirt road along a fence for about 1km, then left. This road takes you through to the areas described: stop anywhere for a look around.. You'll see signs giving tree and shrub names along the way. In the mulga, the scarlet turkey-bush Eremophila latrobei was in flower and attracting lots of honeyeaters: I saw Black, Singing, Brown, White-plumed and White-fronted HE's and Yellow-throated Miners. There's at least one resident group of Hall's Babblers there, plus all the usuals including lots of Crested Bellbirds too.

Richard Johnson
Roma District
Tel: (07) 4622 4266  Fax: (07) 46 22 4151

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